A kind-hearted surgeon who works at Epsom and St Helier hospitals has travelled over 7,000 miles to Malawi to operate, teach and to “give back” to the people.
Paul Thomas, a general and vascular surgeon who specialises in hernia work across the trust, visits the country twice a year during his annual leave. Through his charity AMECA Trust, He has helped raise £400,000 to build a new primary care clinic in Chilaweni that will provide treatment to 22,000 people.
Paul spoke of his compassion for the country, but revealed his patients are dying from preventable diseases. He said: “I think my visits are about giving something back to the citizens of Malawi. They are a very nice and warm people; they always greet me and ask how I am doing. But it is a very under-resourced country.
“I go twice a year because there are only around 11 surgeons in the country for a population of 16 million. To put that into perspective, it would be like me being the only surgeon for Southern England. The total budget for the entire population is about half of the money our trust receives each year.
“I teach basic trauma skills, surgery and procedures, but often when patients come to us with advanced diseases; it is too late for a surgical intervention or any kind of intervention. The people in Malawi are dying from preventable diseases.”
Malawi is one of the poorest countries in the world, with low life expectancy and high infant death rates. Paul also explained that the conditions in the country are “challenging”, and the heat and lack of supplies make procedures difficult to perform. He said: “I believe the only way to improve things is to support Malawi’s health system. You are operating most of the time without electricity and that applies to most of the country – the power is usually off for 10 hours a day. Malawi has got a limitation of drugs, they don’t have intravenous drips, the country doesn’t have chest drains, and it is very hard to get a hold of consumables.
“The government will eventually take control of the running of the primary health care clinic my charity built, and we will work with them. I think the only way the country will develop is if we support their health system. Junior doctors and trainee doctors should take full advantage and go out to the country, because you come back and realise how lucky we are in Britain.”
Dr James Marsh, Joint Medical Director at Epsom and St Helier hospitals, said: “We are all very proud of the work that Paul does to support the people of Malawi. In addition to the dedication to the patients he sees in his day-to-day job, Paul has shown an inspiring commitment to the AMECA Trust and its pursuit to make a lasting difference to people.
“On behalf of the trust, I’d like to thank Paul for setting such a wonderful example, and congratulate him on the remarkable things he and his colleagues have achieved in Malawi.”
To find out more about the AMECA Trust, visit http://ameca.org.uk/.